My thanks again go to Andy Dixon for allowing me to bring you another rifle from his collection today.
During World War One the British had contracted with Winchester and Remington in the United States to produce the P14 Enfield rifle for them. This was a Mauser action rifle with a magazine capacity of five rounds and was used to supplement the SMLE in British and Empire service during the war when manufacture could not keep up with demand back in the UK (the P14 has been covered on the blog before so check out those posts for more detailed photographs of the features of the rifle). Fast forward a few years and the USA joined the Great War in 1917 and like her allies suddenly found herself in desperate need of more rifles. The Springfield 1903 was an excellent rifle, but took time to manufacture and the government arsenals in the US could not scale up quickly. Happily, there were several production lines and sets of tooling for the P14 rifles that were being under utilised and it was not difficult for the design of the rifle to be converted from rimmed .303 ammunition to rimless .300 ammunition. The modifications complete, the new rifle was issued as a substitute weapon and known as the M1917 in US Service. Externally it was virtually identical to the P14 rifle it was based off:
The rifle proved to be excellent, with good sights, a six round magazine (dimensionally the .300 cartridge allowed an extra round to be squeezed into the same space) and it was to equip more men of the AEF than the Springfield. After the end of the Great War, the M1917 was declared obsolete (despite being arguably a better rifle than the Springfield) and the rifles packed up in grease and placed in storage. When the Second World War broke out, the British were desperately short of rifles and turned to the US to try and fill the gap. The M1917 rifles were therefore pulled out of storage and shipped to the UK. 615,000 arrived in the UK in the Summer of 1940 and a further 119,000 in 1941. This was to create a problem as the P14 rifle was also in service with British Forces. Visually the rifles were identical from the outside, however if a round of .303 was fed into an M1917 it jammed the rifle and required an armourer to remove the cartridge. To minimise the problem, and help supply issues with ammunition, the M1917 tended to be given to the Home Guard where there was a reduced need for ammunition and it was easier to standardise those men on the .300 cartridge as they were also using American BAR and Browning machine guns. As a further visual aid, the rifles were painted with a large red band that clearly showed they were set up for the American cartridge:
The M1917 was marked on the receiver ring as the ‘US Model of 1917’ and with the manufacturer’s name, here Remington:
Home Guard rifles were often taken home with the Home Guardsman and this could lead to some bizarre incidents. Bill Miles was issued a Ross rather than a M1917, but that didn’t make much difference to his mother…
Another week and the rifles arrived packed in a thick layer of grease. Each man was issued with a five shot Ross rifle and an 18 inch bayonet plus five rounds of ammo. I asked our sergeant what he expected me to do with only five rounds if the Germans landed. He said shoot one Jerry and as there were 60,000 home guard .If they all did what he said the invasion would be over. It was two months before a large consignment of ammo reached us and we were able to go onto the firing range for target practice. We fired at targets of 250 yards and 500 yards range. My pal Neil produced the best score of the day and I wasn’t far behind. Our sergeant was surprised and it had the effect of us no longer being regarded as kids by the other members of the section. Soon after I received my rifle I was in our front room, which in those days was mothers pride and joy. Everything in this room contained the best we could afford and we were only allowed the use of it once a week on a Sunday. It was in this room with its polished fire irons and highly polished Rexin settee that I was showing my Father, a time serving soldier from the 1914 war, my rifle with bayonet attached. He said, “this takes me back” and with a cry of charge lunged forward sticking the bayonet though the back and out of the front of mothers much cherished settee. Mother screeched “you fool you have ruined my settee” Father looked at the jagged hole wet his fingers dabbed at it and “declared it will hardly notice”. The rifle was never allowed in the front room again.
The red banded M1917 is an iconic weapon of the Home Guard and appears in many period photographs, however it is not an easy item to find deactivated in the UK, the P14 being a much more common rifle (relatively speaking) over here so it has been great to be able to bring you Andy’s example to look at.